AL MASSEY’S 11 SECOND MYSTERY
By Ken Hissner
I sat down a number of times with former Philadelphia lightweight boxer Al Massey, and more than anything else he talked about his 11 second knockout of Mike Cortez on November 9th, 1967. The fight was the main event at the Philly Arena on November 9th 1967, and Massey was very proud of it.
Massey has been away from the game for a long time. It’s been more than 40 years since his last fight, and decades since he’s worked a corner. Currently Massey is retired in Perkiomen Township, but he still talks of that day in the future when he will return to boxing to once again train fighters.
Massey turned 69 in April, and when I visited him, he sure liked a good argument. One argument we had was about that 1967 KO of Cortez which he claimed was the fastest knockout in boxing history. I questioned him about it many times. Finally I did my research and returned for another argument.
I told Massey that, although his KO of Cortez was fast, he did not hold the world record. In 1946 Al Couture knocked out Ralph Walton in 10.5 seconds – including the ten count. That was a half second quicker that Massey’s quick KO.
“How the hell can a guy count a half a second?” asked Massey.
I also told him that the Philly record, which he once had, is now held by Marty Lindquist, who stopped Max Alexander in only 10 seconds at the National Guard Armory on October 14, 2006. Massey wasn’t happy about that statistic either.
Perhaps the one solace for Massy is that Lindquist’s quick KO was eventually changed to a “No Contest”. But to most that watched that night, the original KO call was valid.
During his career as a boxer, and afterward as a corner man, Massey was surrounded by quite a few great Philly fighters and trainers. He worked with some of the best of the local boxing scene.
Since his retirement about 30 years ago, Massey has written a book on boxing called “Educational Facts of the Fight Game”. In it he claims he taught Joe Frazier and Cyclone Hart how to throw the left hook. They perhaps threw that punch better anyone else in boxing. When I told Hart that Massey took credit for his famous left hook, Cyclone said, “He helped me develop it.”
As a corner man, Massey worked with trainer Al Fennel who trained Robert “Bam Bam” Hines among others. Massey said he also trained future world champion Michael Spinks for three fights, and Roger Stafford in his Ring Magazine “Upset of the Year” against Pipino Cuevas in 1981. Massey said that fight was his highlight as a trainer, and that it proved him to be one of the best from Philly.
Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, middleweight contender and one of the few boxers to defeat Marvin Hagler, remembers his days as an amateur sparring with Massey, at the 23rd PAL.
“Al was the first boxer to drop me in the ring. He was a pro then and had a really good left hook,” said Watts.
By all accounts, “Classy” Al Massey was quite an amateur. In 1959, he started out at the 39th PAL in North Philly, under trainer Bear Connelly, but after three years transferred to the legendary 23rd PAL, where all the best fighters of the day trained under Duke Dugent.
“In that gym were “Bad” Bennie Briscoe, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Watt’s cousin Jimmy Young, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Mario Saurennann, Sidney “Sweet Pea” Adams, Lloyd “Bad News” Nelson, and shortly thereafter a southern boy from Beaufort, SC, named Joe Frazier,” said Massey.
“I remember the first day Frazier came into the gym, parking in Duke’s spot with his 1953 Studebaker,” Massey said. “Duke wanted to see what Frazier had, so he put him in with the second best heavyweight (at the gym) whom Frazier knocked out. The next day, the top heavyweight in the gym got knocked out (by Joe). Duke knew he had something in Frazier,” said Massey.
“Joe came around my house for my parents were from the south,” said Massey. “I started running in the morning with Joe. Mario Saur-ennann gave us the idea of making the Olympic team in 1964. Joe took it upon himself to claim he was going to win this Olympic thing. He knocked out Dick Pettigrew the two-time Navy champ in the semi-finals, then lost to Buster Mathis, who (eventually) broke his hand, allowing Frazier to go to the Olympics – and win the Gold medal,” said Massey.
Massey said Frazier even saved his life one day when they were running. “I had this sharp pain and doubled-up to the ground,” Massey said. “Joe told me to get up. My appendix burst and (when he realized) Joe picked me up and carried me to his car and drove me to my dad’s who took me to the hospital. Otherwise I would have died,” said Massey.
Massey sparred with boxers Bennie Briscoe, “Kitten” Hayward, Georgie Benton, “Gypsy” Joe Harris, Young Joe Walcott, Bobby Watts and Cyclone Hart even though he only weighed 126 pounds. His biggest achievement was becoming the runner-up at the 1965 Junior Nationals at High Point, NC.
“I had knocked out three opponents in a row at that tournament,” said Massey, “but knew I had a professional style and (decided to) have Willie Reddish, Sr. train and manage me at Frazier’s gym,” said Massey.
Overall, Massey was 51-11 as an amateur in the 112, 119, and 126 divisions. When Massey was 13 he lied to the officials, saying he was 16 in order to fight in tournaments. Massey turned professional in October of 1965, and won nine of his first ten fights, six of them by knockout.
In an August 1967 in a semi-windup 8-rounder, Massey lost to Doug Charles, but won his next two fights before being matched in a main event with Mike “Golden Boy” Cortez, 15-8-2, at the Arena on November 9, 1967. Massey was up to 143 pounds when he faced Cortez, who had a draw with future world champion Billy Backus on his record.
I found a few people still around the Philly scene who saw the fight, and asked them about their memories of Massey’s 11 second evening against Cortez. I found that accounts of this fight are almost as difficult as getting three judges to agree on the same score for a fight.
Hall of Fame promoter J Russell Peltz was at ringside and had this to say, “I sat on the second row at the Arena. I was working for the Bulletin, but not that night. Massey walked across the ring and caught Cortez with a left hook before Cortez was barely out of his corner. He went down and the fight was over. Massey dipped to his left and fired the hook. Beautiful!”
Including the count of 10 the fight went into record books as a knockout in 11 seconds.
“Massey always came out quick,” said Jim Williams, currently one of the top cut men in the business and co-manager of Mike Jones, Teon Kennedy and Naim Nelson. “Cortez was getting his mouthpiece in when the bell rang. When he turned to his right Massey was throwing and landing a left hook and it was all over,” said Williams.
Massey went 1-3-2 after this fight. Along the way, he suffered left eye damage in sparring, and had to quit boxing. His final record was 13-5 with 8 knockouts (3 in the first round), and claims to have never been knocked off his feet as a pro or amateur.
“I never lost to a Philadelphia fighter in the amateurs or pros,” said Massey.
Philly boxing trainer, George James said, “I was there that night (of the Cortez fight). Prior to the bell Massey managed to go the neutral corner and grabbed the rope. This put him closer to his opponent. As the bell rang, Massey ran to his opponent who was just turning around putting his hands up. Massey hit him with a devastating left hook. Massey could hit,” said James.
Cyclone Hart said, “I was there and Massey clocked him with a beautiful left hook.”
Willie Folk, a Philly cut man and trainer had a slightly different account. “He ran across the ring and hit the man with a right hand and down he went,” said Folk.
Folk was the only one who remembered the punch being a right hand, but they didn’t have replays in those days, and the fight was never filmed. So we may never know for sure what really happened.
Whether the KO was the quickest, or the second quickest, or even the third quickest, without question that 11-second night was the highlight of Al Massey’s professional boxing career.